“Nurrrssse! … Nurrrssse! … Nurrrssse!”
I woke up Thursday morning to the sound of silence, finally enjoying having my very own room in ICU. The door was closed, and I was flipping through channels on the television, something I didn’t have in the recovery unit. Then the nurse came by, and I forgot to ask her to close the door when she left. That’s when I first heard Melissa.
“Nurrrssse! … Nurrrssse! … Nurrrssse!”
This was her refrain, which she repeated every couple of hours, not stopping until someone answered her call. At first, I felt really bad for her, assuming she was an elderly woman in a very frail state, judging by the sound of her voice. But after maybe the fifth or sixth time, I realized there was something else wrong with her.
“What is it, Melissa?” responded her nurse, Francine. “Do you need pain medication?”
“I’m trying, but I need to know what is wrong. Are you in pain?”
“I’m all wet. I had an accident.”
“You have a catheter. There’s no way you can have an accident.”
I couldn’t make out the rest of their conversation or figure out what was going on, but this was how it usually went — Francine would respond to Melissa’s multiple calls only to find out there was no real problem. When there was nothing good on TV (which was most of the time), this would have to serve as my entertainment.
I don’t know if it was the nurses themselves or the way each department was set up, but the treatment I received from the ICU nurses was generally superior to those in the recovery unit. The main nurse I had during the day was Julie. She was early- to mid-20s and looked like she could have been a model, which turned out to be the case. (She did some modeling before getting into nursing.)
Now, I don’t think of myself as particularly vain or worried about what people think of me, but I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed around her. Here she was looking like she stepped out of a medical fashion catalog (well, if there were such a thing), and then there’s me: bed-ridden, unshaven, needing a haircut, and with an NG tube in my nose, a catheter running out between my legs, and an ileostomy bag full of green bile hanging off the side of my stomach.
But that wasn’t the worst part. While the extra fluid caused my scrotum to fill up to the size of a grapefruit, its effect on my other private part was different. The only way I can describe it is to say that it looked like a balloon puppet. And every time a nurse or doctor lifted my gown to examine my stomach, they got a free viewing of the puppet show. Whatever dignity I had died in the operating room.
Aaaand that’s enough of that topic.
Let’s fast-forward to Friday afternoon. My parents were visiting, and to show them that I was doing better, I got up and moved to the chair in proper show-off fashion. I had finally started a clear liquid diet; before then I couldn’t taken in anything by mouth, not even water. Also, Julie had recently removed the NG tube from my “NG,” which was a huge relief. I was feeling pretty good, all things considered, joking around like it was a normal day, and my parents commented on my noticeably improved condition.
Then Julie walked in.
“How are you doing this afternoon?” she asked me, trying to soften me up for a little tough love. “Unless you’re having complications, you should really go for a walk. That’s the only way you’re going to start healing.”
Immediately my mood soured, and whatever buzz I had was shot dead in its tracks. My brain instinctively went on the defense, rapidly searching for a list of reasons for why it’s too soon for a walk. It failed. Instead, my emotions took over and I had an outburst.
“I can’t! Not now! I mean, I finally start to feel good, and now I’m going to hurt myself trying to walk? It’s not fair!”
The thing is, I knew I was being childish and that I just needed to get it out of my system. My mood got worse. My parents realized I needed to be alone, so they went back home. I stewed in my petulance for another 10 minutes before hitting the nurse call button.
“Do you need something?” Julie asked as she opened the door.
“I’m gonna do it. I’m ready to take a walk.”
“That’s great! I’m so glad you decided to try it. Hold on; let me get the cart.”
She came back with a push cart for me to hold and lean onto. She helped me up out of the chair, the same as if I were going to bed, but instead, I took a few steps over to the cart and grabbed hold of the handle. I stood there for a while, trying to straighten up as much as I could (though still rather hunched over) and taking several deep breaths to “exorcise” the pain, which was exacerbated by all the movement. I felt it shoot up the left side of my torso, like someone inserted a knife in my gut and slowly cut upward to my chest. By then, I was somewhat used to it. It wasn’t any easier to tolerate, but I knew how long it would it last.
Slowly and carefully, I began my stroll “around the block,” heading to the end of the hallway, turning right and eventually circling back. Once I got my momentum going, it wasn’t that tough. The main source of discomfort was the catheter tube causing minor irritation with each step. But it wasn’t enough to slow me down. I was on a mission, and several minutes later, I declared mission accomplished.
It was like I ran a marathon. I felt great afterward and realized my mood was finally where it should be. I knew I was doing well when I got the urge to cause a little trouble. Indeed, I was back to my normal self.
Another hour had passed, which meant it was time for Melissa to cry out for the nurse. Francine was anticipating it, so she preempted the situation.
“I have some pain medication for Melissa so she’ll get some rest,” Francine said to another nurse.
“Not a chance,” I quickly interjected, immediately feeling guilty.
“Who’s that?” she asked, peering into my room.
Immediately I thought of Doctor Who. “Um, John Smith.”
Francine read the chart in front of my door. “Mr. Bud … Budjinski?”
“More like Mr. Butt-inski — or the Peanut Gallery.”
She then went on to scold me, but I couldn’t tell how serious she was because she had such a stone-cold countenance and was very intimidating. I realized I should behave myself from that point on.
At this point, I was more than ready to move to a proper hospital room. I had requested a private room, so my mother or father could stay overnight (taking turns), and that meant I would have to wait longer than usual. As a parting gift, I let the ICU have my catheter. It was one more small step toward freedom.
But before I left the ICU, the doctors decided I was ready to try solid food. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea, but if they say it’s OK, then there’s no need to worry, right?